The poet and designer William Morris gave us a great rule of thumb for life, he said, “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Throughout the quarantine people are hyper aware of their environments. Our kids sought to create the most useful! Michelle Rutman, COMPASS Program Director at P.S. 48 created a shark tank competition for her 2nd through 5th grade students based solely on how to help people deal with our new reality. Her team challenged the young people to think about improvements and how to make life easier and more enjoyable during this trying time. She noted that “the students have been true entrepreneurs with their ideas, really thinking about who these products would help, and what problems they would solve for people during this pandemic.”
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After the students spent two weeks working on their creations they have the chance to virtually present their product to a panel of judges including senior executives here at NYCID. The Judges were Chief Executive Officer Candace Gonzalez, Associate Executive Director Michael DeVito, Senior Director of After School Programs Ivy Bilotti, and Associate Director of After School Programs Maram Salem. The judges score based on a number of factors and the students including the enthusiasm for presenting and the actual execution of their idea.

The google meet begins – full of children, their proud parents, teachers and judges all excited to see what the students had thought of to solve their problems in quarantine. Once everyone settles in, the first student starts to present. Wow! A blanket that heats up using copper wiring to stop the spread of CoronaVirus, now that is definitely something that can be useful. The judges ask thoughtful questions that engage the students minds. Now the presentation is rolling by with students eagerly waiting their turn to talk about their inventions. The inventions range from a robot that would bring anything that was asked for, to a computer game with 10 levels, to customizable masks!

The judges took their time to deliberate and came up with 2 winners the next day. The winner for 2nd and 3rd graders is Maya V. who created a mask holder. Maya felt that her biggest problem during quarantine was that she kept on losing her mask. No one wants that! So she made a mask holder that could be tied to your wrist and would take the guessing game out of where your mask is. You could keep your mask and some extra spending money in the holder making it even more useful. Maya would sell her creation for only $10.00, what a deal! Definitely a great way to keep your mask clean and remember where it is!

The winner for 4th and 5th graders is Mia K. for her website Lovely Books. Mia’s quarantine problem was that she loved to read but all the libraries are closed. Lovely Books is a book exchange website where instead of buying a book you want, you could check to see if it is listed on the website by someone in your area and exchange it with them for one that you already have. Mia said that she didn’t want to make money from the website. She just wants people to be able to find joy in exchanging books with others and reading those books.

One of the judges, Maram Salem, said she “had a great time being a judge! It was a little hard to make a decision since everyone worked so hard on their projects. I love how creative all the kids were and how enthusiastic their pitches were.”

Michelle Rutman, who created the competition said, “I think that during this time of the pandemic, whether we see it or not, our kids are struggling and sometimes they don’t know exactly how to express how they’re feeling. I asked them what they were struggling with most while we’re quarantined and what could possibly help them. Through that we started the Shark Tank competition encouraging the kids to get creative to invent products/games/websites that they feel could solve some of their problems that they’re facing. The students worked on their inventions for two weeks- and then came up with their own pitches. It was amazing to watch these videos that they sent in- they were impressive and creative and the things that they came up with…I feel like most adults wouldn’t have thought of themselves! They worked very hard and I’m so proud of them!”

Overall this event is a good way to have students showcase their problem solving skills and their creativity. The students truly shine and are excited to show off their creations. Quarantine seems to have held our schools back in so many ways. The switch to virtual learning was tough at first but ideas and events like this are what keep our students engaged and ready to learn. Although not everyone could win, all students who participated received a prize so they didn’t leave empty handed. These students are our future, who knows what they’ll come up with next!

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